Now that we’ve had a week to batter the new LPGA English policy about the head and shoulders and that the commissioner herself has issued an official statement, I’m going to tackle this subject for a second time. Karen and I talked at length about it on Inside The LPGA today – click here if you would like to hear our discussion (it starts about 15 minutes into the show).
After sifting through the debates, diatribes, speculation and outright hysteria that some have written, I believe that the Tour’s big mistake was simply in how they introduced the policy. The meeting with Korean (and in some reports, other international) players may have been held to give those players a heads-up about the impending policy but the report about it in Golfweek gave us in the blogosphere and the mainstream media just enough fuel to start a forest fire. With very little supporting details available such as suspension criteria and testing boundaries, our posts and articles were allowed to run rampant. I too posted less than 24 hours after the original article and proclaimed the policy as a bad move. Now that I’ve participated in my first “viral outbreak”, I hope I have the wits to avoid the next one. But I’m not letting the LPGA off the hook completely – if they had issued a press release to coincide with the meeting in Portland (and had that release contained the same information in Bivens’ memo today), the backlash would not nearly have been as severe. If you doubt me, this tactic worked pretty well last year when the new drug testing was announced. We all ran that announcement through due process without any irrational “topic-creep” setting in.
I can’t stress this point strongly enough - the policy is still being developed so any immediate discussion is armed with incomplete data, even with today’s statement by Bivens. I’m going to continue this post anyway, with a firm grip on that fact.
The players have expressed support for the new policy with no exceptions. UPDATE: I stand corrected on this point (see Comments). They agree that not only is it in the Tour’s best interests for all to speak serviceable English, it is in their own best interests. Bivens’ example of a player and sponsor establishing a business relationship at a pro-am earlier this year is a huge way that a player can benefit. It seems the only folks complaining about “civil liberties” and “racial bias” are people like me, who only know bits and pieces of the Tour’s day-to-day operations. While I admit there could be players who are fearful of retribution if they speak out against the policy, I find it odd that NO player has expressed any of their reservations. UPDATE: Same incorrect point. And leave the PGA players out of this – their tour has American TV money to supplement the sponsor’s supply and besides, who really thinks that it was a good thing that Angel Cabrera couldn’t speak English after he won the U.S. Open? Anybody talking about lawsuits will need to remember that a Tour card can legally be revoked in the name of any LPGA bylaw. Like a driver’s license, it’s a privilege not a constitutional right.
The policy didn’t just come out of the blue. The LPGA has been strongly encouraging its international players to speak English for years, all the while arranging for translators to assist those who haven’t picked up enough to be interviewed. On one blog, I saw a comment joking that Rosetta Stone should now become an LPGA sponsor. The joke’s on you, buster – they’ve been a sponsor at least since the beginning of this season. The Tour’s use of Rosetta Stone to improve a player’s English is a positive thing and any portrayal of that as a negative is just the kind of bulls—t that completely undermines your attack on the policy.
This is also not a roundabout way of cutting back on the number of Korean players. If the Tour wanted to do that, they would simply adopt international player limits like Japanese baseball teams do. They would be within their organizational rights if they chose to. But think about it - why would the best women’s golf tour in the world drive off up to 30% of its player base and arguably 50% of its top-flight talent to avoid the occasional pro-am problem?
To be fair, I don’t expect the LPGA to start booting out players because they have trouble answering Jane Crafter’s questions. Not specifically picking on Jane but most of those guys’ “questions” are actually statements to illicit a response. I doubt most of us would be able to grasp the same concept if it were presented to us in Swedish, Korean or Thai. I do think that the LPGA has the right to expect players to try and learn a small amount of English, and they need a penalty structure to support that stance. A suspension seems harsh but what if a player has shown repeatedly that she won’t even make the effort? Would a suspension then be warranted? I think under that extreme case, yes. Short of that, I wouldn’t expect any suspensions at all.
Will a lot of players decide to play in Korea, Japan or Europe because of the policy? I expect a few will do that. Those players probably would have been undecided about playing in the U.S. anyway. Think about the opposing possibility – a player who wasn’t sure about coming to the U.S. because of the language barrier is now certain that she will receive every available assistance to overcome that barrier, and decides to take advantage of that opportunity. Couldn’t that bring in more Asian players?
The Tour will absolutely have to resolve the counterpoint – sponsors of events in Asia, Mexico, France and Canada (just kidding, eh?) will have every right to expect their pro-am partners to be just as obliging. It isn’t exactly the same situation, of course – many pro-am players in those countries can speak English – but the good faith response from American players would be a wonderful bonus.
I’m probably about five days too late with this post - many of you already have your minds made up about this subject and are ready to move on to something else. I realize that the LPGA can’t undo the backwards way the English policy was brought into the public eye but I think we all ought to at least wait until the entire thing is spelled out before launching our verbal nukes.